April 29th, 2010

Some things that should worry us about Bigotgate

First, the statutory declaration of interest: I'm a Labour Party member and am helping out in a small way with my local Labour candidate's campaign (only leafleting so far this time round, but I'll almost certainly be knocking on doors on election day).

Second, while I've not done any canvassing so far at this election, I've done it many times before - and one of the main rules of canvassing is "don't get into an argument on the doorstep - particularly with someone who might vote for your party". Unfortunately, that very occasionally means standing on a doorstep for five minutes listening to an extremely toxic rant and maintaining a very fixed smile - and I'm sure that, a couple of times, I've muttered far more offensive things than "bigot" once off the doorstep.

Third (of course), while we don't (yet) live in anything close to a panopticon society, we are closer to it than ever before - and public figures closer still. Gordon Brown was, metaphorically, still on the doorstep until out of reach of every microphone and camera, and he should have remembered it.

Fourthly, is Mrs Duffy a bigot? Unfortunately, though I'm not happy to say so, yes. A bigot can probably be best characterised as a person who believes that most (right-thinking) people agree with them (the "lurkers support me in email" syndrome?) - and that seems to be true of Mrs Duffy.

Fifthly, I'm not happy to say that Mrs Duffy is a bigot, because she almost certainly did not deserve to be outed as one. An elderly woman in a Lancashire former mill town has every reason to believe that her social environment is no longer what it was - and in fact significantly worse than what it was. And to believe that something must have made it that way. And, if she couldn't find sufficient good reasons for that, should we be surprised that she found bad ones?

And finally, even if (as I suspect) millions of English people agree with Mrs Duffy's comment about eastern Europeans "flocking" to this country, it's something of a disaster that that seems to be the case.

To start with, the eastern Europeans concerned are by and large leading very productive lives here, and have every reason to feel demeaned and offended by such attacks - and I find elmyra's comments about it on LJ (followed up here) and the Guardian website fully justifiable.

And, even leaving the feelings of eastern European immigrants aside, the attitude makes no sense for us previous inhabitants. Consider that, while all major parties are treating immigration as a problem, none of the major parties are proposing to stop, or even hamper, immigration from eastern Europe - and ask why.

The first reason is that it would be in clear contradiction of EU rules on internal freedom of movement. Though that is not much of a reason (after all, the Conservatives at least are against plenty of other EU rules) until one considers the next one.

Which is that, collectively, we British gain distinctly more than we lose from those EU rules. If we want to retire to Bulgaria - or, more likely, Spain or France - it is those rules that allow us to do so. If we want a weekend break in Prague, Paris, Rome or Berlin without first queuing for three hours at the relevant embassy and completing a ten-page form, again it is those rules that allow us to do so.

And the rules have to work both ways. If we want the right to flock to the rest of the EU - and we do - the other inhabitants of the EU are perfectly entitled to flock here in return.

Though, finally, note that this dumps the worst effects of all parties' placatory gestures against immigration on non-EU immigrants. And just how fair is that?